Nizhny Novgorod: Uruguay striker Luis Suarez said that the absence of fellow attacker Edinson Cavani from the line-up was decisive in the team’s 0-2 loss to France here in their 2018 Fifa World Cup quarter-final.
The Paris Saint-Germain striker was kept from playing by an injury suffered in the round-of-16 match against Portugal, where he scored both of Uruguay’s goals.
“Cavani has been essential for us because of the class of player he is. He scored two goals, and those who took his place did it in the best possible way and gave their all for the team. But that’s no excuse,” Suarez said on Friday.
He also spoke about veteran head coach Oscar Tabarez and the possibility he will continue after his contract with the Uruguay national team ends following the World Cup.
“Everyone knows what El Maestro means to the team and to Uruguay. For all he has done and for all the respect he has won. I believe what’s called for at this point is to evaluate El Maestro’s work up to now and await the good news,” Suarez said of the 71-year-old.
Finally, he weighed Uruguay’s World Cup performance: “We always gave our all, we tried to do our best. You can say we could have done a little more, but we always did our best. After that the game could have come out good or bad, but we always gave our all,” the FC Barcelona star said.
Despite a tiny population of 3.3 million people, Uruguay got out of the group stages in the last three tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 2010 and the last eight this time.
In Russia, they won three group games without conceding a goal, before eliminating Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal 2-1 in the last 16. They were well-beaten 2-0 by France on Friday, but will always wonder what might have been if influential striker Edinson Cavani had not been out with injury.
The absence of Cavani, who scored two wonder goals against Portugal and draws defenders away from strike partner Luis Suarez, distorted Uruguay’s game plan and gave France an easy evening except for one superb save by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
“I didn’t even get a shot in,” lamented a frustrated Suarez, who astonishingly did not have a touch in the French box.
Yet the team walked off to resounding chants of “Uruguay!” from Russian fans, an ovation from their own supporters, hugs from the French, and inspiring words by their coach.
“We dream on. Things never end. A World Cup comes around every four years,” said Oscar Tabarez, noting Uruguay had surpassed great soccer nations like Germany and Argentina in reaching the last eight.
At home, Uruguayans were sad but bursting with pride.
“There’s nothing to reproach,” said former captain Diego Lugano. “Thanks to the players for again being World Cup protagonists and stirring a nation.” There was huge sympathy from Uruguayans towards defender Jose Gimenez, whom cameras caught crying minutes before the end as he realised it was too late to turn the game around.
One British pundit called that “embarrassing”, but for Uruguayans it was proof of the passion that has seen them punch above their weight since winning the first World Cup in 1930.
Once the emotions settle, Uruguay have some serious work to groom a new generation, given mainstays like captain Diego Godin and strikers Cavani and Suarez are now all in their early 30s.
Tabarez, in charge for 12 years and known lovingly as ‘El Maestro’ (The Teacher) at home, said his future was up to local Football Association bosses — but there has been no sign they want to move him on after such success and stability.